Thursday, October 30, 2008

People Care What I Have to Say

Once every four years, people care what I have to say. Yesterday, participated in a forum in El Dorado, Arkansas, and today I visited my daughter's 2nd grade class and a 1st grade class in her school.

What struck me about both events was the intensity of this election. I encountered passionate supporters of both candidates, and a high level of interest from everybody. I am glad I was able to talk about the election in a way quite different from most media conversations.

The most surprising thing were the children--6, 7, and 8 year olds were surprisingly knowledgeable about the candidates and the nature of the Presidency. Unfortunately, the children did repeat some of misinformation that was out there as well. But it was a positive experience. I was especially moved by some of the African-American children, who really were excited by Obama's candidacy. This can be dismissed by some as identity politics, I suppose, but that is not what I saw out there. Something important is happening in America right now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New direction?

After the election, I may start to post about life in the rural South--in addition my not terribly frequent political posts.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


No, not a pro-Obama blog, nor an anti-Obama blog. And no, I haven't entirely abandoned the blogging project.

As we get down the election wire, we should not lose sight that however dramatic this election cycle has been, even more dramatic changes may be occurring under the surface. First, it is clear that the conservative movement, one that emerged in the forties and came to dominate American politics in the 80s is over. This is not to say that conservatism is over, not by a long shot. But the movement will have to adapt. Small government conservatism (a label I think is a capitulation by people once called libertarians) died in the first Bush term, and that death was confirmed by the enormous Wall Street bailout Paulson and Bush engineered. Social conservatism is not exactly dying, but young social conservatives appear to have very different concerns than their parents--even as they favor traditional families for themselves and strongly oppose abortion, they do not seem to be terribly troubled by homosexuality, and they are far more concerned with the environment than older social conservatives. In any event, there does not appear to be a "moral majority" out there that can mobilize these voters in a single direction.

As I've posted in the past, I'm convinced that the ideological labels of the past are obsolete. Somewhere on this blog I've posted about cosmopolitans and parochials. But really, I think that move can be understood as a description of what's happening to conservatism. It leaves open the question what is happening to liberalism.

Let's make a few observations--great society liberalism died a long time ago. Much of the change brought about by the conservative movement of the last 50 years is permanent. No one, other than maybe Washington bureaucrats, thinks Washington bureaucrats can solve problems. We will not see a top down approach to solving government problems again. Rather, what we are likely to see is a kind of new new federalism--one which will encourage more experimentalism in confronting social problems. This will not be driven by some grand new liberal ideology, but rather by pragmatic problem solving. Often, it is likely that these solutions will be market based, and even market driven.

The reason that I think liberalism will move in this de-centered direction is the way in which the ideological map is changing. For liberalism to spread beyond its coastal enclaves, it has had to adapt to new climates. There is still much work to be done--the contempt coastal elites often display for the people in the heartland is destructive. Rather than ask what's the matter with Kansas, perhaps San Franscisco hippies should be asking what's the matter with themselves. I think this is happening, though slowly, as the left begins to recognize its roots in populism and the labor movement. For this to happen heartland leftists will have to find their own voice. But this does seem to be happening.

As far as wealth distribution, the latest scare to come out of this election, I hope there will finally be a recognition that while free markets and globalization have great benefits, good politics and a sense of fairness demand that public policy ensure the benefits do not accrue to the few. The pain of declining real wages for most Americans was obscured by an explosion of credit, which we're paying for now. If lagging consumer spending is a prime cause of an economic slowdown, it makes sense to enact policies that encourage consumer spending. And the only real way to do that is to boost consumer income. In short, I think supply-side economics is dead. Anyway, it was just right wing Keynesianism all along, wasn't it?